This week, we are finishing the layout of our latest book, “Honest Labour,” which is a collection of essays from The Woodworker magazine while Charles H. Hayward was editor (1939-1967). This book will be the fifth and final volume in our series from The Woodworker.
When we started on The Woodworker project more than a decade ago we didn’t intend to publish “Honest Labour.” The series was going to have four books that covered handwork: tools, techniques, joinery, the workshop and furniture plans. But as we paged through every article from The Woodworker during the 29-year period, we kept getting stuck on the “Chips From the Chisel” column at the beginning of every issue.
These columns during the Hayward years are like nothing I’ve ever read in a woodworking magazine. They are filled with poetry, historical characters and observations on nature. And yet they all speak to our work at the bench, providing us a place and a reason to exist in modern society.
For years I heard rumors that the unsigned column was written by a clerk or assistant at the magazine, but I don’t believe that for a second. After reading Hayward’s writing on woodworking most of my career, I know his prose like I know my own.
For the last few years, we’ve been working on “Honest Labour” in the background. John Hoffman secured the rights to the material, which was no small effort or expense. Kara Gebhart worked through all of the “Chips From the Chisel” columns, selecting the best ones. We decided to organize the essays year by year, and so Kara has written a short column for every chapter that lists the major news events of that year. These short essays provide important context – even woodworking writing is different in wartime.
During the last couple months, Megan Fitzpatrick and I have been laying out the book, with Megan doing most of the heavy lifting. The structure of the book is more like a book of favorite poems you can pick up while you are waiting for your family to get ready for dinner. Or when you sit down in front of the fire after a long day of work.
Every page spread in the book consists of one column only, illustrated with line drawings from the magazine that were published during the same year the column was written. The illustrations were also made by Hayward.
Here’s a small sample of one of the columns from the 1960s. Like a lot of good writing, it’s difficult to divorce a piece from the whole without diminishing it.
How easy for anyone having sufficient professional skill to get away with a semblance of truth. There are some craftsmen who simply take it for granted. The lack of precision in marking up, the careless cut, the small faults which declare themselves when a piece is assembled. Such a craftsman knows all the answers. “Oh I can soon put that right,” he says easily. And he can, filing, adjusting, smoothing, gluing here, screwing there, using as much casual skill in faking as in making. The furniture he produces may deceive the untrained eye but by any true standard it falls short. Without perhaps even being aware of it, the casual craftsman lets himself down more than anyone: the real damage is to himself.
It is all too easy, demanding no particular effort, no particular sense of responsibility, either to himself or to anyone else. But anyone who wishes to lift himself out of the rut, as a person as well as a craftsman, needs to feel responsibility and to be committed to a standard. Only in this way can he keep the sense of effort alive, and to cease from effort is to die before our time.
“Honest Labour” is going to be a sizable book – 488 pages – the largest book in The Woodworker series, and will have the same manufacturing specs as the other books in the series so they look good on your shelf. We hope to deliver it to the printer by the end of the month for a release in April or May 2020.
We know this is an odd woodworking book and that a lot of people will be skeptical, so we are doing everything we can to keep the price as reasonable as possible. And we are prepared for it to be a commercial flop. That’s OK, as we consider it an honest labor of love.
— Christopher Schwarz